Back to Butch’s to launch Tiki Tours

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
OKEECHOBEE COUNTY — “Junior” Velez (from left), bar employee Joey and Frank Pickens helped build the tiki boat during the past six months.

OKEECHOBEE — A new attraction is awaiting patrons at Back to Butch’s Bar, once it is allowed to reopen again. Some longtime friends of the owner fashioned a sturdy “tiki hut” for him on a pontoon boat while the first 2020 statewide bar shutdown was going on from March 17 until June 6. They still plan to open up a “Butch’s Tiki Tours” attraction as soon as possible (it had been planned to launch today, July 1).

Now, though — only a few weeks after Butch’s finally was able to reopen following the three-month closure due to the governor’s shutdown orders in March regarding the COVID-19 pandemic — the establishment closed again on noon Friday, June 26.

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
OKEECHOBEE COUNTY — An anhinga suns itself on a rock at the edge of the Rim Canal. Tiki Tours passengers will see a lot of local wildlife along the way.

Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s chief announced via Twitter that DBPR was shutting off all except takeout sales of packaged alcoholic beverages from bars, and there could be no consumption of them on stand-alone bar or tavern premises.

That includes Back to Butch’s new Tiki Tours pontoon boat as it is considered part of the bar premises, but Butch’s is giving free rides until owner Jeffrey Kennedy is able to begin paid tours — when people will be able to bring their own libations aboard.

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
OKEECHOBEE COUNTY — Fishermen work the grassy islets on Lake Okeechobee on a beautiful breezy Saturday (June 20).

A group of the guys who helped construct the vessel gathered Saturday, June 20, on a perfect sunny, breezy day to host a maiden voyage of Back to Butch’s Tiki Tour boat out on the Big Lake — Junior Velez, Frank Pickens and Joey Abruzzi joined Kennedy on the pontoon boat.

Dan “Mr. Danny” Bell, who wasn’t able to go, said they didn’t have a very specific plan to start out and that it kind of evolved as they decided what they needed.

“It was just one piece at a time,” he said, shaping Kennedy’s idea out to fit the goal. “We didn’t have no blueprint to go by. We just engineered it as we went along. And we were going along pretty good, and then Jeff said he wanted the top built to be able to lower it, so we had to figure out all that. But we got it figured out.”

Kennedy said, “We originally had just the awnings planned on the side.”

“But I said if you want a tiki bar,” Bell interjected, “you’ve got to put a fast roof on it,” Abruzzi noted, “This is watertight.”

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
OKEECHOBEE COUNTY — The lock at Taylor Creek begins to open. From the water rushing toward the lake, one can see that the canal level was higher than Lake O’s (it was about 12.2 feet above sea level that day).

They spent around $10,000 making the vessel perfect for small parties, and Kennedy has hired a captain, Mike Jones, to operate the boat for paid tours.

Kennedy said he got the idea while on a visit to the Florida Keys last year. “They’re doing them there on octagon-type vessels and they have six people with the captain, and I said to myself, ‘Why isn’t anybody doing this in Okeechobee?’ Thus was born the idea, so I asked Danny to build it, and so thus we have, six months later, Back to Butch’s Tiki Tours.”

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
OKEECHOBEE COUNTY — Danny Bell (front), Frank Pickens and Joey Abruzzi all pitched in to build the “Tiki Tours” vessel, which is adorned with totem poles and tiki-style artworks.
Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
OKEECHOBEE COUNTY — From left, Junior Velez, Jeffrey Kennedy, Joey Abruzzi and Frank Pickens.

He looks forward to welcoming small groups of six maximum for three-hour tours during daylight and, for a slightly higher cost, for sunset or moonlight tours. The boat also will be rented for private parties of up to 10 people, but details will be announced once Back to Butch’s reopens.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment